In a series which would best be described as the equivalent to a bird crapping all over your clean new T-shirt, the Rangers (luckily) managed the take the final game in Seattle. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t pretty. But they still found a way to take one out of the three, the same as Oakland did in New York this weekend, so the division lead remains at 4 games heading into the climax of the regular season starting tonight against the Athletics in Arlington.
If there was a game to concede, it would have been Friday night. Minutes before the first pitch, Oakland allowed a walk-off home run to Russell Martin of the Yankees, meaning the magic number dropped and the Rangers wouldn’t have lost any ground no matter what their result was in the Seattle opener. Texas trotted out their current #5 starter, 21 year-old rookie Martin Perez, and ran out a lineup lacking its two most important run producers, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. Perez was decent, but nothing great, lacking control and falling victim to the unforeseen terror of having a bunch of his balls hit in the direction of Michael Young at 3rd base. The two teams teetered the with the lead early on like a seesaw, first the Rangers going down 2-0, then knotting it at 2, going back down, 4-2, and after David Murphy lined a solo blast into the right-field seats to give the Rangers their 3rd run, they didn’t score again. The final score was 6-3. The only positive to take from the game was Scott Feldman’s three innings of nearly flawless pitching, not allowing any runs and striking out five. But he’s teased us so much with his erratic nature that it’s hard to put very much stock in that sort of thing.
Saturday night was one the Rangers should have won. Matt Harrison pitched well from a cosmetic standpoint, allowing nothing outside of a solo homer to Michael Saunders and netting an 8-inning complete game, lowering his impressive ERA on the season to 3.21. That said, it should have been a lot worse. There were numerous balls that got cracked off the bat that probably would have been homers in a place like, say, Texas, and he gave up 7 hits and 4 walks. He twice escaped harm, one a two-on, no out jam, the other a bases loaded nobody out predicament, but that’s almost become expected of him with his impressive 78.8% strand rate, 8th in baseball. It’s not exactly the way you want to draw it up, because over time those are the kinds of things that will bit you in the ass, but you certainly take it during the course of an individual game.
The real story is that the Rangers offense is truly average on the road, sitting 14th of 30 Major League teams in wRC+ (94), where as at home they are elite, tied for 2nd at 114 wRC+. This is why pitchers like Blake Beaven have the ability to effectively shut them down on any given night, although Saturday’s shutout more boiled down to a lack of execution with runners in scoring position. Still, Oakland lost, so no ground was given away, but you’d still like to see your offense scrape out more than a fat goose egg. The Rangers lost that game 1-0, and I can’t even remember a time the Rangers lost a game 1-0.
Yesterday felt a bit more like a typical Rangers road win in 2012. The offense, again, wasn’t that great, plating all three of their runs via the long ball, first a solo shot by Mike Napoli and then a two run job by Geovany Soto that he didn’t even think was gone. Ryan Dempster was effective, if not solid, allowing two runs and recording 8 punch-outs in 6.2 innings of work. The game reached its climax in the 8th inning when Rangers setup man, Mike Adams, succumbed to an unfortunate case of BABIP hell, allowing two weak singles with no one out. After a slow roller to the right of the pitcher’s mound, essentially doubling as a sacrifice bunt (which is a route I’m surprised Seattle didn’t originally shoot for), Adams intentionally walked the newest Ranger killer, the improbable Justin Smoak, to load the bases for Eric Thames. Admittedly, at this point I was already doubting the outcome and all but ready to give the Mariners a sweep to cap off one of the crappiest series’ of the entire season. But Mike Adams wouldn’t allow it. He absolutely carved up the outside corner with his patented back-door cutter on his way to striking out Thames, and then with two outs ceded a lazy fly out, nestling comfortably in the glove of Craig Gentry. Mike Adams did his job.
It was a boring, uneventful, un-sexy series, where the Mariners scored a whopping 9 runs to the Rangers 6 over the three-game set, but it segues into the most highly-anticipated week of baseball of the 2012 season. With a 4-game lead and 10 games left to play, Texas hosts Oakland with a chance to completely eradicate their AL West crown chances. The magic number sits at 7, and you can bet the A’s will be as desperate as they’ve been all season to keep their dream alive. These are the games where we witness what a champion is made of, and I expect the best the Rangers have to offer.